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Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Mentoring & Being Mentored

A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors (2015) is a book I'd likely never have stumbled onto if not for the new writer's group I joined early this year. What has been your most recent experience of being enriched by a book that could have easily escaped your attention?

"Be kind. Pay attention. Err on the side of generosity." 

Those three simple suggestions - lessons George Saunders extracted from being mentored by Tobias Wolff - can be used by anyone who wants to be of use to another person. Think back to your own mentors. How closely did they follow this model? Now reflect on your own mentoring of others. How are you doing?

"Carve. Make your sentences sinuous."

Those five words - coaching that Edie Meidev got from Peter Matthiessen - is more specific to the craft of writing. But consider how readily those words could be applied to thinking or conversation. Which of us wouldn't benefit from distilling our thoughts to the essential? How could speaking more cogently ever hurt?

"Aren't you afraid your mind will dry up without a fresh flow of ideas and information?"

When Josip Novakovich told his mentor Terence Malick he hadn't read anything the day before, Malick responded with that penetrating question. I immediately recalled the great novelist Ernest Gaines's words when asked how to improve one's writing - "Read more."  But even if you are not an aspiring writer, Malick's question is worthy of reflection. Just as this volume of short essays is worthy of anyone's attention, writer or not. Start with the three essays above - of nearly seventy - and see if you don't want more. If so, jump to Henry Rollins on Hubert Selby Jr. or Nick Flynn on Philip Levine or Sabina Murray on Valerie Martin. Then write me here and tell me what you learned about mentoring or about being mentored. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: My Mentor


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